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WATCH: MEMA, National Guard To Set Up Care Sites As Maine Coronavirus Death Toll Rises To 12

Nick Woodward
Maine Public

The Maine National Guard and the Maine Emergency Management Agency will set up alternative care sites in Portland and Bangor as the state prepares for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients.

Gov. Janet Mills made the announcement Tuesday as Maine’s number of confirmed cases reached 519. In the lead-up to her announcement, she recounted how it was less than a month ago — March 12 — that Maine recorded its first case of COVID-19. Now that number has surpassed 500 and 12 people have died.

Mills says the state must prepare for even higher numbers. That’s why she has directed emergency workers to set up alternative care sites: one at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, which will hold at least 100 beds, and the other at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, which will hold at least 50 beds.

“I hope we never need to use these sites. But we cannot afford to wait to find out. Building them now will ensure that if the need does arise, we will be prepared, and Maine people will be cared for and Maine people will survive,” she says.

The sites will be set up next week, Mills says, and the state is working with hospitals to determine staffing and whether the sites would be used to treat COVID-19 patients or others.

In addition to the boost in capacity, Mills also announced that Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services will provide $10 million in additional payments to hospitals. The commissioner of the department, Jeanne Lambrew, says the payments are needed as hospitals curtail their typical operations to prepare for a surge in patients sickened by the new coronavirus.

“We are trying to make sure we support them financially to care for people with COVID-19, as well as to sustain their staff and hardworking workers during this time of crisis,” she says.

Gov. Mills says the state has put in place what it can to help health care workers, including requirements for physical distancing, to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“What our future will look like whether it’s a best case scenario, a worst case scenario, or somewhere in between that is all up to us,” she says.

She urges Mainers to stay home, but stay connected.